Monday, October 10, 2005

The myth of Yitzhak Rabin

An interesting perspective from the Israeli newspaper Haaretz:

Yitzhak Rabin is now also a community. Three weeks ago, the cornerstone was laid for Tsur Yitzhak, a new community on the seamline that will bear the name of the late prime minister. Another community, Givat Rabin, in the Lower Galilee, has been in the planning stages since 2001. After all of the schools, streets and roads, a hospital and city squares, a musical production and power station, trauma center and monuments, a community will also be built, and perhaps a city, too, before long.

Next month, on the tenth anniversary of Rabin's assassination, the country will again be inundated with memorial festivals, and the Yitzhak Rabin Center for Israel Studies, with its megalomaniac presence of world notables. This new center cost $30 million to build ; while the government allocation was recently reduced, it still stands at NIS 7 million annually. Even the Jordanian child,Yitzhak Rabin, received temporary resident status from Israel\'sinterior minister recently only by virtue of his name.

And if this were not enough, about a year ago, the non-profitorganization for perpetuating Rabin\'s memory petitioned the High Court of Justice to instruct the government and Trans-Israel Highway Company to name the road for him. Thus, maybe we will have a Rabin Highway linking the communities named for Rabin, in which there are dozens of schools and streets named Rabin.

There is no doubt that a prime minister who was assassinated while in office, who signed the first agreement with the Palestinians, and who was an army chief of staff wreathed in glory, deserves to be remembered forever. But after a decade of commemoration enterprises,one can surely ask: Haven't we exaggerated? Hasn't this wholesale commemoration cheapened it? And above all, was Rabin in real life indeed similar to the mythological figure that has been constructed around his memory?

It is not by chance that Israel loves so much to commemorate Rabin. For Israel, the living Rabin embodied the best of its secret longings. He was the man who proved that you could have your cake and eat it too - waging war and making peace; issuing commands to break the bones of Palestinians and sitting with them at the negotiating table; building settlements and condemning the settlers in scathing terms; signing an accord with the Palestine Liberation Organization and refraining from evacuating even a single settlement; deliberating with Yasser Arafat and expressing physicalrepugnance for him; ready to travel to Gush Etzion with a visa but not doing a thing to advance this issue; shocked by the massacre carried out by Baruch Goldstein and afraid to evacuate the Hebronsettlers.

Perhaps truly on that night, when he refrained from evacuating theHebron settlers, an important characteristic of his was expressed, a characteristic that is not mentioned when speaking about "Rabin'slegacy" (a vague term than no one knows how to define): On that night, Rabin was revealed to be a cowardly statesman. If he hadevacuated the Hebron settlers then, when an excellent opportunityfor doing this arose, he would have prevented the development of themonster that grew in the city and has already succeeded in drivingtens of thousands of terrified residents from their homes.

In the Oslo Accords - the crowning glory for Rabin, the man of peace- he also did not dare to do what a much smaller "man of peace,"Ariel Sharon, did 10 years later. Rabin did not dare to put theevacuation of settlements on the agenda, even from the Gaza Strip,despite his conviction that at least some of them should beevacuated. The failure of Olso must therefore be attributed, amongother things, to a lack of courage on Rabin's part. Even if thePalestinians themselves, for some unclear reason, were wary of beingtoo adamant in demanding the evacuation of settlements, a statesmanlike Rabin could have been expected to recognize the Israeli interest in such a move. He should have initiated an evacuation inorder to strengthen the agreement.

The decision to recognize the PLO and sign an agreement with it wasindeed a courageous act, but while appreciating this, all of thelong years of refusal that preceded the move should not beforgotten. During these years, Rabin refused to recognize theorganization representing the Palestinians and Israel wastedvaluable time. If Rabin and his colleagues had recognized the PLO in time, perhaps this would have prevented the bloodshed of the first intifada and the entire course of history that followed might havebeen different.

But the first intifada did break out, and the violent and brutal waythen defense minister Yitzhak Rabin dealt with it cannot be erased from his "legacy" or the way his portrait is depicted. It isimpossible to just remember the statesman who signed a peace treaty with King Hussein, an agreement that did not demand a price fromIsrael and only provided captivating photo opportunities with a king who had European manners and great personal charm.

Rabin believed in interim agreements. He thought that the abyssbetween the Palestinians and us could be traversed in stages. Hewanted peace but, like most Israelis, did not agree to pay theprice. For a leader who is portrayed today as a bold seeker ofpeace, he did not have enough courage to reach into the flames andtry to extract a solution. Before the first intifada, thepossibility of reaching a solution was greater than it is today,with over 200,000 settlers in the West Bank.

All of this should be taught to pupils at the many memorial assemblies that await us. We should tell them the full truth aboutthe prime minister who became beloved and revered after his death: He was assassinated on the "altar of peace," but what he did forpeace was too little and too late.